Multiple outlets are reporting that AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas will no longer show Universal films due to a dispute over the movies going direct to streaming.
The dispute started when NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell told the Wall Street Journal that Universal is now considering releasing movies straight to digital on the date of theatrical release.
The theater chains argue that the model is a slap in the face to the theater model and would leave the theater industry high and dry.
And they’re right. Universal seemingly stands nothing to lose by offering their movies on streaming while maintaining theatrical releases, as they get bring in the box office and streaming revenue combined.
The comments come after the success of Trolls World Tour, which brought in more than $100 million through direct-to-streaming platforms.
With concerns about COVID-19 expected to linger for years, it seems Universal may be concerned about continuous tumultuous times at the box office.
It is a necessary move for the big theater chains to fight back against the move and leverage the weight of their box office to returns, not only to protect themselves, but smaller theaters as well that could be harmed or eliminated by theatrical releases going straight to people’s homes.
But regardless of the issues the move would have on the theater industry, I believe Universal is making the wrong bet.
Sure Trolls World Tour found success during a time when everyone is shut into their homes, but will streaming really be able to replicate the success of bigger blockbusters?
One thing that streaming can never replace is the theatrical experience.
Take for example The Invisible Man, which was one of the last movies to be seen in theaters before finishing its run on streaming.
Watching at home could not compare to the gut-wrenching moment in the film that left the surrounding audience in an audible gasp.
Or take A Quiet Place Part II, which is still awaiting its time in theaters after being pushed back. That atmosphere cannot be replicated.
If COVID-19 has reminded us of anything, it has reminded us about how important social interaction and a sense of community can be.
Movies are made to watch together. Hopefully these moves by AMC and Regal remind Universal of that.